Friday, February 27, 2015


When you have a group hellbent on world conquest, the first thing yergunnawannado is ask: is it the "liberal West" or "some illiberals we need for the monster role in our efforts to control resources"? If the answer is liberal West, assume good intentions. Everywhere they go, they bring civilization and the bettering of everything, by definition. They burned down your village and killed your grandma? That's better than it was. Say thank you. If it's them heathens, use their bad intentions as a pretext to drum up support and do the green thing on this here map that you've been doing for centuries. Don't forget to blame it on their religion. Only religious people of the type Muslim are hellbent on world conquest. OK, sometimes atheists in Moscow and other places. If they're Christians though, that could get awkward. You need to create some separation. Just assume it's an intrinsically German, Italian thing, whatever. Blame it on a particular leader. Make stuff up, see what sticks. And then keep getting that green.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I've passed by this sign so many times, finally had a camera on me.
"Clearly you're inadequate. No one loves you. Not even the plaid suit man has any use for you without our product. Give us your money and we'll give you the blue suit man, whose judgment alone can redeem you."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

how history shows that omar vizquel was a devout muslim

input X ➡️ system ➡️ outcome Y

eating salmon instead of lollipops ➡️ human body ➡️ longer lifespan

violence instead of non-violence ➡️ child's body ➡️ violent adult

video games ➡️ body ➡️ probably some bad things

reading Quran ➡️ body ➡️ probably some bad things

Depends what the control is. On a desert island, soda is better than nothing. White bread is better than lollipops. We've got a lot of moving parts, systemic complexity.

People eat a lot of white bread in Japan. Not so good. But people in Japan live relatively long. The outcome is the sum of all the moving parts. From a naturalistic, scientific perspective, there's absolutely nothing in the outcome that didn't come from all those moving parts.

Input #343 out of 10,000 ➡️ society A ➡️ violence?
Input #212 out of 10,000 ➡️ society B ➡️ violence?

#343 seems terrible. Can't prove it but it just has to be. #212 seems pretty rational to certain people.

The U.S., empirically, has been the most violent country in the world over the past 50 years, at least, and the pattern of constant expansion goes back to the very beginning of the European invasion and conquest of America. What's the explanation? The outcome of all those moving parts is off-the-charts violence levels. Where's the analysis of those moving parts, among which are new atheists, by new atheists?

I agree that #343 is bad, but what about #650 when society B deposes society A's democratically elected government, #5,610 when society B chokes society A's economy and so on? And why has the society with the greater #343 input been less violent than the one with the greater #212 input? #343 is the Quran. #212 is new atheist political ideas. Unlike the case of the white bread above, whatever impact each of those inputs has is entirely unclear. Could be pretty close to nothing. Could be one is lollipops, the other candy canes, with both taken in such small quantities that it doesn't matter if one is slightly worse. That I have to explain basic methodology to professional scientists is [expression of exasperation]. 

A right-wing relative (think Krauthammer, Rumsfeld) on fbook typed this:
Yes, the US killed thousands in War. It is an ugly business. But no one was killed by the US with intent of conquering lands, enslaving the conquered, and subjugating to a hateful, VIOLENT religion.
I'll wait till you're finished lolling. OK, the crying, the banging of your head on the desk. Get it all out. Whew!!!

(I responded:
So if members of a peaceful religion (for example, the Russians) were to invade the U.S. and non-violently, with love and democracy in their hearts, use chemical weapons, WMDs, fighter jets, etc. to kill millions of American citizens without intention to subjugate Americans to any religion, you'd be fine with that? We wouldn't have to include that on our Russian violence scorecard?)
Now try to find a difference between this and the new atheist position. In fact, that hilarious comment got a "like" from a new atheist (an otherwise lovely person, by the way) who'd, upthread, been defending Harris as a peace guy. When I mention that society B is the most violent society in the world today, in my experience, new atheists don't dispute it directly. They want to keep bringing it back to how violent the Quran says believers should be, or the violent God (Allah)-religious words that some violent Muslims use when they do violent things. They don't dispute that the U.S. is the most violent organization in the world today. It's hopeless. But when they talk about how violent Muslims are, with the implication that Muslims are relatively violent, i.e., more violent than Christians and atheists due to their Musliminess, they demonstrate that they aren't actually counting Iraq invasions, drone bombings and the like as acts of violence. They actually think Muslims are more violent, not just in the nasty religious text sense but in terms of real world actions. They think this in spite of mountains of evidence showing systems with input #212 to be more violent and in spite of not being able to make a semblance of a case. Their argument, generally unspoken, rests on the characterization of acts of military aggression that kill on a scale not of handfuls or dozens, but on a scale of hundreds of thousands as non-violent. Their case rests on mass organized killing not counting as violence. Imagine you wanted to compare the power-hitting skills of Barry Bonds and Omar Vizquel where slugging is an act of violence and Bonds HRs count as "whoops, didn't mean it!" ground balls, his triples count as bad apple pop-ups, his doubles count as freedom-providing strikeouts, and his singles count as "did that really happen? I don't think that happened" do-overs, stricken from the record. Meanwhile little Omar Vizquel is spraying death-seeking singles all over the field and, anecdotally, hitting freedom-denying opposite field bombs far more often than the old box scores suggest.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

no true atheist

Part of the appeal of new atheism is that it pumps meaning into otherwise deflated post-God-religious 21st century heads. Life seems meaningless? Here's a narrative to fill the semantic vacuum: The problem with humans is that they have all these silly God-beliefs. The wars, anti-vaxxism, and every other form of illiberal irrationality are relics of the past, when humans were not so far along on this progressive journey as we are today. The problem with the world, in other words, is them, and the answer is you, should you choose to join us. Boom, the meaning's back and you've got a new ingroup. Now you want to insulate your tribe from accusations of being just like them; after all, the God religions are mirror images of each other, all thinking that God is on their side even though God can't possibly be on all their sides; that's illogical! They say they're different but they're the same. You, on the other hand, really are different because you don't believe God is on your side. Atheism is non-God-belief, by definition. One other thing the God-religions have that atheists don't is an official holy book. This is very very important, because some people see words and reflexively do things suggested by them. Free of those God and God-text delusions, now you can go forth and be a good guy in the war against irrationality. You matter! Meaning is back. The struggle against evil is back. What a deal.

The God-religious thesis: Wrong belief and wrong texts and wrong God ==> people doing wrong things
The proof: other God-religionists believe X, Y, Z, which is wrong. We believe not-X, not-Y, and not-Z, which are right. They wear purple, we wear red.

The new atheist thesis: God-belief and irrational tribalist texts ==> violence, irrationality, etc.
The proof: They believe in God and follow violence-encouraging texts. We don't believe in God and don't follow God-texts. When they do violent things they talk about Allah. When we do violent things, we say Team America! well...we don't do violent things because atheism is non-violent and good, by definition.

If this seems too easy, too strawmanny, allow me to mention that there is no reasonable, empirically-based argument that Islam correlates with higher levels of violence than atheism. Meanwhile, any new atheist who voted for Obama voted for a Christian/atheist (does it matter? of course not!) who has a fucking kill list. The reason new atheists emphasize God-belief and religious texts is that these are what distinguish their tribe from God-religionists. Thousands of humans committing acts of violence around the globe, a tiny fraction of whom are Muslims, the main perpetrators of which are acting for governments new atheists support and what the new atheist wants to talk about, time and again, is: "were they saying something about God when they did it?," which, as far as geopolitical analysis is concerned, is like asking what color underpants they were wearing.

Here's reliably easy target Sam Harris:
there are teachings within Islam that explicitly recommend, in fact demand, violence under certain circumstances, circumstances which we in the 21st century, if we are decent human beings, will recognize as being morally insane.” 
But, he said, “there is no such link between atheism or secularism, and violence of any kind.
To paraphrase: there are no teachings within atheism that recommend violence under certain circumstances. Therefore, atheism doesn't cause violence in the way that Islam causes violence. By implication, Islam causes violence by way of texts (and possibly other ways).

He's trying to explain why Islam causes relatively high levels of violence by virtue of some conveniently unexplained semantic mechanism and he never bothers to show that Islam is even correlated with relatively high levels of violence! Because for the goddamn Nth time, there's no such case!

Monkeys swim better than dolphins because...

No, stop! Don't tell me the reason. You've gotta show the first thing first.
It could be that when Hicks starts talking, he’ll tell us how much he hates Muslims and he just wanted to kill a few; and he might even say he read The God Delusion, and The End of Faith, and God is Not Great, and took from these books some kind of rationale to victimize Muslims at random. I think it’s incredibly unlikely that that’s the case. I will be flabbergasted if Hicks says that his atheism drove him to commit these murders.
If we're going by what Islamic terrorists report as their motivations, what they tend to say is that they're responding to U.S. and Israeli F-16s, drones, etc., that is, violence carried out by Christians, atheists, and Jews.

But on Harris logic, when Russell Wilson thanks God after a TD, his Christianity causes his football playing. When a Christian American prays before his mission and blows up a wedding, his Christianity is responsible. When an atheist does the same actions but without praying to the atheist gods, literally anything that's not atheism is responsible. That's how you insulate your religion from criticism.

Now what if the data shows that atheists are relatively more violent than Muslims? To Harris, it doesn't matter at all. Atheism doesn't cause violence, by definition. That's the no true scotsman defense.

I don't mean to make the Quran or God-belief acausal though. It does something, and I imagine the thing it does is something I wouldn't like. There's a weak claim that, in a vacuum, I don't have a problem with that goes like this: angry person with some violence-encouraging external influence is likely more dangerous than same person without that. The U.S. spends millions on propaganda for a reason. That's the correct comparison. Environmental factors that impact violence. The only reason you'd make the comparison hinge on specific God-related verbiage is if you have a tribalist angle to work.

Harris, Dawkins and friends don't make the weak claim. They want to say Islam is relatively violent, that there's something intrinsically violent about it. That's a strong claim and there's simply no empirical basis for it. The U.S. has been far and away the most violent organization in the world in the past century. Half the world's military spending, world's #1 arms dealer, only country to have intentionally used nukes on humans, world's aggressive invasion leader by a mile, etc. Again, it doesn't matter if Obama is really a Christian or if he's faking it. It doesn't matter if the drone operator said a prayer or not. And when some Stalin or whoever kills millions, atheists can just say "we don't have a holy book so that's not on us." The new atheist Islam hater, on the other hand, can pick and choose when to pin it on religion.

Given the discrepancy in actual violence between Muslim countries and Christian/atheist ones, shouldn't we be asking why the west is so violent? I'd never think to answer that question with the kind of unfalsifiable equivocating stories Harris spins. The answer goes like this. The U.S. (and its allies, including atheist Scandinavia and atheist Japan) behaves the way an empire behaves. Geopolitics tells the whole story. ISIS would not exist without U.S. involvement. Islamic bad guys rise and fall (covary) with U.S. foreign policy. The U.S., as a matter of long-standing policy, works to oust uncooperative regimes and replace them with cooperative ones. The latter tend to be dictators, for reasons not hard to understand. It's a classic screw-the-third-party triangle along the lines of European slave trader/African bosses/enslaved Africans. The U.S. is violent as a means of arranging and distributing resources. Humans were killing each other long before the U.S. and ISIS. The names change, the rationalizations can be pretty similar (along ingroup/outgroup lines), the violence is mostly the same.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

machines like them

So sciencey, this.

Yeah, you can keep the focus narrow.

You can put the whole thing in a western frame.

You can say Russia is illiberal, where "liberal" by implication signifies some identifiable, isolable something whereas, perhaps unbeknownst, it means nothing more than an ever-shifting, definition-of-bias "us".

You can allude to western liberalism as your inside/good without showing that it does the common good good.

You can assume a difference in kind where there's a difference in style.

You can ignore piles of research or just the NYT every day.

Holyfuck, American media as free, adversarial, whatever.

You can say, hey, studies show the by-definition bad guys are bad, which they are, as weighed against the common good. Good point!

But only so you can use this bad to prove us good, cuz the bad of the other is what makes any us good, reflexively.

You can recommend that Hillary do such and such, act like she acts for the common good when, in fact, she acts for some imagined you/us.

You can call it science and get it published by machines like us.

Friday, February 13, 2015

let's just hope they run out of gas

A lot of people who know things about artificial intelligence are concerned about where the whole thing is going. Will future Dick Cheneys get brain modifications so as to keep the baby koala soul cupboard better stocked? Will AIs treat humans the way humans treat cockroaches (kill them when you see them), lab rats (experiment on them), birds (mostly ignore them), pets (feel condescending affection for them), or some other way? Nobody knows what's coming (and they don't seem to have given much thought to where the energy will come from, post fossil fuels, either). Here's a summary of AI fears by Kevin Maney that covers important ground, makes some great points, and entertains a critical stance only so he can dismiss it.
It’s time to have a serious conversation about artificial intelligence. AI has crossed a threshold similar to the earliest triumphs in genetic engineering and the unleashing of nuclear fission. We nudged those discoveries toward the common good and away from disaster. We need to make sure the same happens with AI.
"We nudged those discoveries...away from disaster"? Disaster here must mean something like "human extinction," as opposed to, say, Nagasaki. It would be easy to breeze right past that sentence, processing it as "yeah, fission could have gone really badly (but it didn't)." It would be understandable if someone failed to notice how misleading this dichotomy is. We're to choose between disaster and the common good where "disaster" doesn't include Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the risks of future nuclear weapon use, including the possibility of human extinction; nuclear meltdowns that have already happened (Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc.), the risks of future nuclear meltdowns, the fact that nuclear waste has to be dealt with and is vulnerable to infrastructure failures perhaps unavoidable over the lengthy time frame involved; the broader implications of what more power for humans means generally in terms of "the common good." Maney's argument is, roughly, this -- the Cuban Missile crisis didn't end in human extinction (or death for important people -- more on that later) and power is good, therefore nuclear fission serves the common good.

The benefits of nuclear fission must be pretty spectacular to outweigh all those downsides. Rather than explore the "pro" arguments in detail (Maney doesn't mention them), I'll just use a handy shortcut and assure you that all those arguments presuppose what they'd need to prove. Arguments like "nuclear power is cleaner and more sustainable (on some theoretical level) than fossil fuels." "A is better than B" arguments. Better at what? At C. But we're talking about D. C is power. D is the common good. They're entirely different things. Talking about C sends D to the background, by design. This is an article that pretends to talk about the common good while making the case for power. Politicians, scientists, and mainstream journalists work for power.

Admittedly, while "common bad" is relatively simple, "common good" is somewhere between complex and impossible. Maybe nuclear fission, or AI, can work for the common good. But Maney isn't making that case. He's taking the status quo, these increasingly infotech-dependent societies, as his definition of the common good. He thinks nuclear fission has worked for the common good, and his (implied) evidence is "not dead yet." Power justifies itself.
Yet at the same time, we can’t not develop AI. The modern world is already completely dependent on it. AI lands jetliners, manages the electric grid and improves Google searches. Shutting down AI would be like shutting off water to Las Vegas—we just can’t, even if we’d like to. And the technology is pretty much our only hope for managing the challenges we’ve created on this planet, from congested cities to deadly flu outbreaks to unstable financial markets.
Maney insightfully describes the risks brought about by increasing socio-economic complexification by way of infotech, then advocates using the same technology that got "us" into this risky situation to get "us" out of it. Sounds more like an antihero story than a progressive redemption story. Think Walter White compounding previous errors, doubling down on bad bets, and bringing himself closer and closer to death.

Instead of making "The Case Against Artificial Intelligence" (the artice's title), Maney makes the case for it by taking the strongest and most obvious set of solutions (anything prioritizing cutting back) off the table. Imagine someone writing an article titled "The Case Against Smoking," quoting a couple medical professionals who say it's somewhat risky, then ruling out the possibility of quitting smoking as unthinkable. "Given that we have to smoke, we may as well be smart about it..."

"We can't not develop AI." Predictively, many humans this century will try to develop AI (or brain upgrades) to the point where it's no longer dependent on, or even influenceable by, human decisions. Whether they get there depends on peak oil, climate change, and a whole bunch of other complex variables, including humans themselves. But in this phrase, Maney isn't making predictions. He uses the term "we." Pardon the cheese, but where there's a we there's a way. He's suggesting agency and control over the situation, then, for all intents and purposes, denying that there is any. If humans, collectively, stopped building it, they could "not develop AI." If the humans in the science labs stopped building it, they could "not develop AI." If he'd like to stop it, but just can't, he could say "we have to stop it, but it's probably unrealistic to think we can." But if he thinks AI is something we (hint: he's not talking about people living below the poverty line) should go along with because getting off this techno ride would be unbearably painful (for him!) and he'd rather risk death and godknowswhat than give up his smartphone and his position in line, he could say that. But that wouldn't sound very good.
So we have time. But Musk, in particular, is saying that we shouldn’t waste it. There’s no question powerful AI is coming. Technologies are never inherently good or bad—it’s what we do with them. Musk wants us to start talking about what we do with AI. To that end, he’s donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute to study ways to make sure AI is beneficial to humanity. Google, too, has set up an ethics board to keep an eye on its AI work. Futurist Ray Kurzweil writes that “we have a moral imperative to realize [AI’s] promise while controlling the peril.”
It's what we do with them? The fear is that "we" -- he means the very few in the vicinity of the steering wheel -- won't be able to drive the car at some point. He said it's already too late to turn back. If you imagine that history is working out pretty well so far thanks to good people in positions of power acting heroically -- the progressive faith -- I guess you can hope for more of the same. The suggestion that history is working out well so far depends if you're talking about the ghost of a Nagasaki victim or the CEO of a heavily subsidized nuclear power company, the vast majority of humans who live in poverty or the small minority with vacation homes.

It's possible the powerful could act somewhat more cautiously with AI than most new power sources. The usual pattern is to push costs, up to and including death, off on the rest of humanity. For the common good, of course. But in this case, powerful humans may be more cautious for the same reason they haven't nuked the planet yet -- self-preservation. To the extent they can, they'll try to externalize costs and set up a barrier to protect themselves. What extent that might be, they don't know.
It’s worth getting out ahead of these things, setting some standards, agreeing on some global rules for scientists. Imagine if, when cars were first invented in the early 1900s, someone had told us that if we continued down this path, these things would kill a million people a year and heat up the planet. We might’ve done a few things differently.
Nah, there was a Kevin Maney around back then saying everything will work out alright, somehow, raising the possibility that it wouldn't only to dismiss it. There were others who made forceful objections only to be ignored, or punished. And again with the "we." We the good guys. We the non-members of the set "humans living in poverty." We who are so committed to our carbon-fueled lives that we won't even consider giving them up. We can see here, again, what Maney means by disaster, where Nagasaki doesn't count. He's talking about disaster for people like him. That hasn't happened yet.

So, to summarize:

infotechpower: We're nuttier than a scientologist on meth and we're going for a joy ride. Woohoo!!

Kevin Maney: Whoahh, that sounds dangerous. I'm hesitant but...wait up! Let me come too. I'll be in charge of making sure everyone wears seatbelts.

ITP: Sure, whatever. *car speeds off* Woohoo, human heads!

KM: No disaster there. Guys, put on your seatbelts!

ITM: *laughing*

KM: I'm serious!...Please?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

new atheism, progress, rationality

The new atheist view of human history is progressive. Unthinking violent religious fundamentalists belong somewhere on the left of the page and rational nonviolent atheists over on the right. Any good progressive can tell you that history moves from left to right on a line that represents time, and the future is better than the past because, duh, science. On the new atheist view, some religions are more primitive than others. Way the hell over on the left (not the political left; that's a different model) is Islam, for example. Beheadings, supposedly a Muslim thing, are primitive. And barbaric.

Which makes a nice segue to another new atheist model that goes hand-in-hand with the progressive one. There's an inner circle, a glorious heavenly space mostly free from irrationality and other impurities (other forms of barbarism), populated by true atheists. Next circle out is nice, reformed religions like Judaism and Christianity. On the way-outside are the super-barbaric Muslims. Does that look to you like the standard white supremacist scheme repurposed to match current geopolitical power arrangements? Hey man, alligators look like crocodiles but they're not the same! Not the same!

A third model combines the first two to put "now" in an inner circle along with atheism. The whole thing is rolling left to right towards gloriousness. You might be tempted to call it a redemption narrative but atheism is no religion, dammit! It's in the word. "A" means "not" while theism means "god-belief." How could that possibly be a religion?! How could something be different than the thing it claims to be? "Impossible!," says a millionaire preacher. Anyhow, the pure center is already more glorious than anything that's ever been but it will become purer and purer still and its white light will some day -- if we, the good guys (hey, how did we get in here and why are there so many Calvinists in here with us?), do it just right -- kill off the dark influence of the barbarism that surrounds it/us. And then we'll have heaven on earth. Heaven in heaven is for religionists. Heaven on earth is for atheists.

Sarcasm aside, this is the inside/outside structure at the foundation of cognition itself. As such, I don't have a great answer for it. I try to be more aware of it and avoid its worst pitfalls. That's all. Like the new atheists, I try to be better tomorrow than today, aim to win, aim for perfection, consider myself to have won the Magical Belief Lottery, and think negative thoughts about people who disagree with me. I also think I'm a ridiculous bastard. Which makes me better than people who don't realize they are. Which makes me more ridiculous. And back. And forth. (Though tu quoque "saves" me. My hypocrisy is beside the point.)

Speaking of back, back to the thing about atheism and rationality. I started writing this post because I saw a story about three Muslims who were killed by an atheist yesterday. Should I click on the story? Do I owe the victims my sorrow? A series of unanswerable questions that expose me as an asshole (impure!) later, I move to an easier line of thinking: don't expect any Dawkins tweets to the effect that liberals need to stand up to atheism and the violence intrinsic to it. Classic ingrouper that he is, Dawkins and friends use anecdotes as support where convenient, as exceptions otherwise.

From there, a recurring observation that Japan is as atheist as any country you can name, arguably as rational/sciencey as any, and also, though I'm admittedly going off anecdotes, quite possibly the least critically thinking population of humans ever. The easy point is that atheism doesn't cure stupid. Or that atheism is a new form of that. See above. Beyond that, what's fascinating is the way a certain kind of stupidity dovetails so perfectly with a certain kind of rationality. Call it constricted rationality. "Robotic" also comes to mind. This rationality takes the easiest path. Questions that challenge authority are punished so routinely, so severely, that they fade to the background as non-questions. There's an unspoken consensus that the way things are is natural and unchangeable, even as it changes, even as the human is in the process of being shrink-wrapped. The game is pushed to the outside, becomes the frame. The possibility space shrinks. The answers to questions such as "how do we not drive ourselves to extinction?" exclude the only solutions that might work, the solutions that walk back the presuppositions to the point where we're not making trolley dilemma choices between well-intended shitty-consequence-having action A and well-intended shitty-consequence-having action B. If you're opposed to killing civilians for empire, don't become president, in other words.

From a broader human perspective, 21st century technopower is stupid. It will let you have your stupid beliefs about blood type determining personality. It loves when you go to power spots. It has no problem with your lucky charms. It does not love when you use your brain to question its frame. It will drive you into the ground and the humans to extinction, because it's not selecting for your well-being or for long-term human survival. It's selecting for short-term, narrow-frame, localized gains millions and millions of times. What we're seeing is the cumulative effect.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

good american

A good American is someone whose emotive responses to the names of characters in the international American drama (e.g., Putin, Israel, Ukraine), on a scale from us ("if you so much as harm a hair on that child's head...") to them ("destroy it like Babylon"), reliably covary with those characters' portrayal in American media as innocent victims (or other good-by-definition notions) or monstrous killers thereof (or other bad-by-definition notions). Whether those characters are portrayed as innocent victims or monstrous killers thereof reliably covaries with American geopolitical interests, as determined by a handful of higher-ups in the empire business, which, as a feature, not a bug, kills innocent victims. American geopolitical interests are determined by who has what, who helps who get what, who stands in the way of who (and to hell with whom) trying to get what, and so on. They are not in any way the product of an assessment of who does what violent thing to who to get what and how often, with virtue on the side of non-violence and villainy on the side of violence, where the most violent humans are assessed villain points so that steps may be taken to reduce the amount of violence they carry out. No, geopolitical interests are not that. Not even a little bit. Not even the hypothetical space between your preferred political party and its rival. A good American does what's best for America, as determined by a handful of actors that no one, not even their own mothers, trusts, and whose every known behavior suggests a desire to redistribute the whats of the empire business, which, as a feature, not a bug, kills innocents, to themselves. A good American supports the killing of innocents so that a small group of professional wealth redistributors can take what from who and pass it back to...who else? A good American opposes the killing of innocents, and may anyone who touches a hair on that beautiful child's head suffer the wrath of God. A good American supports the slaughter of innocents, and may anyone who opposes the slaughter of innocents suffer the wrath of God.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

introducing the norm family

Existence is power. Given basic laws of physics, everything that exists does so at the expense of something else. At every fork in the road, world became this and not that. I reckon forks in the road are either always or never. I prefer always.

Expense is a loaded word. Is existence good? Humans act as if it is. It's a part of the programming. I'd say existence of the local (a human body, for example) is the foundation of the word "good." Of course it's nothing more than that, nothing stand-alone transcendent. But if we're to describe it, we're describing something very real, as this is simply the way those natural systems called "humans" function.

Yesterday, I wrote about normativity in language. Words like "ought" I'll call Little Norm. On the other hand, existing locally, in opposition to the world, I'll call Big Norm. The question there is how local, how wide the net gets cast. Little Norm is logical, Big Norm is ontological. In my scheme, Little Norm is a part of Big Norm. Descriptive statements fall back into normativity because there's always something thinking it. Things that exist have power. Things that think think about the things they're thinking about, and those thoughts exist in some form or other. Oh fuck. I stand by that sentence, but...apologies.

To speak descriptively, on the other hand, means to stand outside the world, if only illusorily. So as to stand against it, normatively. So that the information gained can be exploited to further the repetition of the local same. The descriptive falls back into Little Norm, always was Big Norm. But again, that net can be wide.

Now let me introduce Extensive Norm, who is some kind of hippy. He's a widener of the local. Sees himself in other humans, perhaps in everything. OK, maybe he belongs to an eastern religion. Of course, he has to eat -- he exists at the expense of other possible worlds! -- so he's a hypocrite. He wants to extend his way of being to everything, wants being empathic to take over. Not empathic? Get out of the way!

Then there's Intensive Norm, a psychopath who will destroy anything that interferes with his narrow self-interests. Someone's gunna slaughter that village and enjoy the spoils, may as well be him. He thinks he really does stand outside the world, an unnatural creature. He preaches determinism, claiming he's doing description. Whereas that argument itself is Big Norm standing against the world, acting. I reckon everything is either free or determined. I prefer free.

In any case, those villagers he's slaughtering are him. Absent post hoc rationalization, that is. After they're slaughtered, he can say he's the winner, they're the losers, therefore they're different. Issues of idiosyncrasy aside, he just killed himself, and moved some words around to rationalize it. Whether he felt guilt or not is beside the point. He's a hypocrite. Imagine the psychopath being brutalized, then saying on his death bed, "it is as it should be." Approving of one's own death after having tried to live is just more post hoc rationalization. Rationalization is power disguising itself. Not unrelated to, see first paragraph, power being a death threat. For deathbed psychopath, power was him, then it wasn't, and when it wasn't, he told power's story that non-existence is good, when we know that word "good" means the opposite.

Friday, February 6, 2015

it's straight description, but take it how you will

As soon as you start reciting well-established facts about American history using plain English, you're going to come across all sorts of resistance. You can take out all the rhetoric that people tend to use when talking about ingroup member victimization like "atrocities" and "sickening." Just use terms like "kill," "war," and so on, along with some names and numbers. Purely descriptive statements cause outrage. The statement "the U.S. killed X million civilians in aggressive war Y" is an affront to decency just as the video of Eric Garner's murder, not the murder itself, was an affront to decency.

Apologetics vary in sophistication, depending on the believer (potential unbeliever). For most, simple moral condemnation will probably do. One potential unbeliever hints, merely hints, at "well, we did kind of invade them and I can understand why they'd want to kill members of an invading army..." and a true believer responds with something that amounts to "traitor!" and, realizing that that anger is the anger of the tribe, the potential unbeliever mutters "just saying," and doesn't bring it up again. There are more sophisticated apologetics for more sophisticated unbelievers. Get far enough outside and they stop trying. "You win," they say, "but there are only, like, 10 of you." Which isn't to say it's hopeless so much as it's been hopeless. Predictively, oh shit! Prescriptively, act as if the opposite?

Some very sophisticated apologetics have served to thwart some very smart potential unbelievers. These include leveraging an equivocation on the terms descriptive and normative. My solution is a doctor analogy...

It's perfectly possible to make descriptive statements without any further commitments to them. A doctor has the "right" diagnosis of cancer, for example, but does she tell her patient? Is she glad about this diagnosis or upset? Is she numbed to such things after years of experience? The diagnosis is the description. The doctor's assessment of the diagnosis and subsequent actions stand independently. If the doctor dies, the patient still has cancer. To suggest otherwise is tu quoque.

But why would the doctor care enough to tell the patient the accurate diagnosis? Maybe because extending the patient's life with expensive treatments is good for business. Maybe the doctor didn't mean to tell the patient but the patient overheard it. Etc. Doesn't matter. Tu quoque.

If the doctor also cares about helping patients, though, doesn't that poison the purely descriptive well? Well, bias is a factor in everyday life, in politics, in science. Bias is at work in any description of anything. Imagine if we ask: "If a scientist cares about being right, doesn't that poison the purely descriptive well?"

There are ways to check for bias and those ways should mainly involve analyzing results. Same in politics as in science. "But everyone who talks politics has an agenda." Same as everyone who talks science. Perhaps a person who's talking politics has an agenda to make an accurate description, which would be like having an agenda to do solid science (make accurate scientific descriptions). In both cases, the results should tell the story.

Recently, I made the doctor analogy and had my claims to an accurate political description (diagnosis) taken as claims to have described the way things actually are. But saying a description is accurate needn't involve any such commitments. It can simply mean "by the typical standards one uses when talking about flowers and data." The descriptive/normative distinction here is not metaphysical or epistemological, it's logical. So watch out for that.

Imagine the doctor says "You have cancer. The best course of action is to get chemo." Built in to this statement is the idea that the patient being healthy would be a good outcome. If the patient undergoes chemo, she'll have a better chance at good health. Normativity is all over the place here. Even the word "healthy" comes with a built-in normative meaning. Where health is a noun, one can distinguish between good health and poor health (normative). Where healthy is an adjective, it's assumed to be good, while its outside (e.g., unhealthy, death) is taken as bad. One can try to get around this by saying "a smart person acts in such a way that she'll increase her chances of living a long life with such and such body chemistry (and so on)," but here the normativity is simply shifted to the word "smart."

On the other hand, simply using conditional statements can work. "If you want to live a long time, get chemo. If not, don't." Alternatively, consider "getting chemo would extend your life." Most people don't want to die young, so it might be said these statements are normative. Well most people don't want to die, so if you suggest they won't live forever, is that normative? Yes and no. All statements have normative implications, insofar as they're interpreted by creatures with agendas (like living). Not wanting to die young gets particularly strong reactions. Along the same lines, saying "the U.S. regularly kills children in their own neighborhoods" is perfectly descriptive. That most people are troubled by the thought of killing children where they live is what lends that sentence its normativity.

There's all sorts of wiggle room, though, because we mix the two all the time, and it's unavoidable. If I tell the wife, "I washed the dishes," maybe I mean "I know you were thinking you had to wash the dishes which would impact your plans but now you can do something different." Agenda free. Or maybe I mean "so don't complain about how little housework I do." Agenda. The statement itself is descriptive. By any meaningful interpretation, it also has normative implications. But it may or may not have an agenda.

(More on this topic to follow, for better or worse.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

brady's heroization

The post hoc heroization of Russell Wilson turned into the post hoc heroization of Tom Brady thanks to a single data point that Tom Brady had nothing to do with.